Older US Workers of Color at a Disadvantage

Older US Workers of Color at a Disadvantage

As workers age, poor health or disabling physical conditions can interfere with holding down a job. Sometimes people are forced to quit working if things get really rough, whether they’re ready to retire or not.

But race also figures into this predicament, because workers of color are already in poorer health and tend to have more vulnerable employment situations than White workers. A new study compares what’s it’s like to be an older Black, Hispanic or Asian person who is trying to keep working in two countries with similar cultures: the United States and England.

The United States does not come out on top.

The building blocks for this research are basic comparisons of White and minority workers’ health and employment rates in each country. In both cases, the gaps between the races are largest in the United States.

People of color, ages 50 to 70, in both England and the United States are much less healthy than Whites their age. But the researchers find the health disparities are larger here than in England, where the National Health Service provides universal healthcare. The differences between the two countries persisted in analyses using individuals’ own reports on their health in a survey and using medical diagnoses like diabetes and cardiovascular disease.

The racial gap in employment is also larger in the United States. The employment rate for older American men of color is 10 percentage points lower than for White men and 5 percentage points lower for older women of color. In England, the researchers said, the differences are “modest” after taking into account the fact that Whites and minorities in England have different health and education levels than older workers here.

The disadvantages of being an older worker of color are compounded if they suddenly experience a new medical condition or injury. But when this occurs, the researchers concluded, “the [negative] impact of health shocks on employment is larger for nonwhites than for Whites and is larger in the U.S. than England.”

Comparing women of color in both countries illustrates this dramatically. A sudden worsening in health is responsible for 19 percent of the drop in employment for older women of color in the United States, compared with 13 percent for White women, the researchers found. This negative effect on employment for women of color in this country is three times larger than in England.

There are multiple potential reasons for why these differences exist. First, the pools of minorities in the United States and England are quite different, with a large share of U.S. minorities being Black or Hispanic and a large share of English minorities being South Asian.

Another reason is that poor health takes more of a toll on minority workers because U.S. jobs are generally more physically demanding than they are in England, the researchers found.

Understanding how deteriorating health affects employment, they said, is necessary to design policies that level the playing field for older workers of color so they can work longer.

To read this study, authored by Richard Blundell, Jack Britton, Monica Costa Dias, Eric French, and Weijian Zou, see “The Dynamic Effects of Health on the Employment of Older Workers: Impacts by Gender, Country, and Race.”

The research reported herein was derived in whole or in part from research activities performed pursuant to a grant from the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) funded as part of the Retirement and Disability Research Consortium.  The opinions and conclusions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not represent the opinions or policy of SSA, any agency of the federal government, or Boston College.  Neither the United States Government nor any agency thereof, nor any of their employees, make any warranty, express or implied, or assumes any legal liability or responsibility for the accuracy, completeness, or usefulness of the contents of this report.  Reference herein to any specific commercial product, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise does not necessarily constitute or imply endorsement, recommendation or favoring by the United States Government or any agency thereof.

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